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Smart But Scattered: Part 1 of Interview with authors Dick Guare and Peg Dawson

Yvette Vignando: Dr Peg Dawson is a psychologist at the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Dr Dick Guare is a neuropsychologist and the director of the same Center.  On the back cover of your book Smart but Scattered, it says:

“The latest research in child development shows that many kids do have the brain and heart to succeed, but lack or lag behind in crucial executive skills, the fundamental habits of mind required for getting organized, staying focused and controlling impulses and emotions.” Do these kinds of skills develop naturally at different rates?


Peg Dawson: Yes. They do naturally develop at different rates in different children.  If parents are concerned, though, probably the best place to start is to look around at other children of the same age or to talk to the child’s teacher to see if the child looks like other kids in the class or is developing at the same rate.  

Are there natural gender differences in children developing these skills?

Peg:The research suggests that these skills do mature faster in girls.  We start looking at that around middle school, age 12-13 and up.  A lot of skills like time management or planning or what’s called ‘goal direction persistence’, do seem to be present at a higher level in girls than in boys.

Dick Guare: And even with younger children, clinically we note differences fairly early

In your book you distinguish between ‘thinking’ skills and ‘doing’ skills.  What are the differences?

Dick: Well, executive skills can be (partly) considered to be thought processes, for example, ‘working memory’.  Working memory is the ability to think about yourself in a current situation, look back into your past experience, find something that’s comparable to the current situation, and bring that information forward to see if you can use it for decision making about your own behaviour.    

On the behavioural side, skills like ‘response inhibition’ really involves making a decision about whether to respond or not to a particular situation, and then actually implementing that decision. … the thinking skills are working memory,  planning, organisation, time management and metacognition.  And the more behavioural skills are response inhibition, emotion control, sustained attention, task initiation, goal directed persistence and flexibility.

There are eleven skills covered in Smart But Scattered, and what I really liked about your book is there are a lot of very practical things for parents to use. There are charts and things to fill in, and step by step guides.  Is it important for parents using the book to distinguish between these skills?

Peg: It’s more important that they identify which particular skills are lacking…You may be giving them suggestions for how to remember stuff, how to remember everything they have to bring home at the end of a school day, or a strategy of how to think about how to arrange their papers in terms of organisational planning.  

You called the book ‘Smart but Scattered’.  Is it common for gifted and talented children to lack organising and planning skills?

Peg: Well, you know the term ‘the absent-minded professor’? That’s probably a good example of a very bright person who is smart but scattered.     A lot of kids are very bright, and because a lot of their thinking is what interests them the most, they are in their own internal world and they are not necessarily monitoring what they are supposed to be doing on a day-to-day basis, or how to get through the morning routine, or again what to remember at the end of the day... they are weaknesses which are often frustrating both to them and to their parents

Dick:I think it’s important to say we don’t find that children who would be considered intellectually gifted are necessarily going to be weak in these skills.  We’ve certainly seen gifted children who have in addition to their superior intellectual skills, also superior executive skills.  

Do you sometimes see kids who have attention or behavioural issues that ‘hide’ their intellectuall giftedness?

Comments (2)

YvetteVignando's picture

Great news

That is great news, thank you for your feedback :-)

smart but scattered

thanks for the recommendation of this book, I collected this at the library last week and it has definately pointed me in the right directions to helping my daughter succeed